The point guard is known as the “quarterback” of the offense. For the large part, that’s still correct, as they are typically the primary facilitators of the offense, unless you’re someone like LeBron James, Luka Doncic, or James Harden — a few non-traditional primary creators.
With the rise of more score-first guards, and with offenses flowing more freely in space, you really need multiple playmakers on the court at once to succeed. Whether that’s using a playmaking 4 or 5, a shooting guard deft at creating for himself or others, or a wing that can occasionally run the offense, it’s imperative to deploy multiple playmakers on the court in today’s NBA.
Another way teams utilize this strategy is through lineups with two point guards. We saw it in the Finals, when the Raptors played Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet together a ton. The Clippers used Patrick Beverley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in that capacity as well. The Nets also played D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie together frequently.
The Memphis Grizzlies even have a nice track record with the “two point guard” lineups. In the 2015-16 season, the duo of Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers had the league’s best difference in net rating between its two and one-PG lineups (+19.1). Even though Shelvin Mack was essentially a negative everywhere else, the Mack and Mike Conley duo possessed a net rating of +1.5 in 432 minutes of play.
The Grizzlies are looking to replicate Conley’s brilliance with Ja Morant for the next decade-plus. Meanwhile, they also brought in Tyus Jones, a young veteran backup point guard, to play both behind and alongside Morant.
The four-year veteran point guard out of Duke has the tools and efficiency to serve as Morant’s partner-in-crime for solid two-PG lineups.
Last season in Minnesota, good things happened when Tyus Jones took the floor with another floor general.
They didn’t utilize Jones alongside Jeff Teague a whole lot — 18 minutes in 11 games played. Both players missed lengthy parts of time that didn’t match the other’s healthy timeline. However, the results were promising when they shared the floor together, as they had a net rating of +9.4 with a 114.3 offensive rating and 104.9 defensive rating.
Jones played alongside Derrick Rose for 532 games in 41 games, and they produced a net rating of +1.9 and an offensive rating of 108.1.
Jones’ pass-first mentality and his steadiness handling the rock attributed to this success, as a score-first guard Rose can focus more on attacking rather than distributing. In addition, both players prefer to push the tempo, a style that best fit the Wolves’ young talent.
Tyus Jones’ fit next to Ja Morant could be a promising one, but it does possess a fair amount of issues that could be easily fixed.
Most people look at Jones’ 3-point shooting numbers from last season and gag a bit, as he shot 31.7 percent from deep last season. His 3-point shooting statistics, both under Ryan Saunders and in the catch-and-shoot, are somewhat promising, as they trend more towards the league average. It’s no secret that Saunders’ offense had more flow and was more productive. With that spacing, Jones’ 3-point percentage rose to 35% on 2.1 attempts per game in 29 outings. He also shot 36.8 on catch-and-shoot 3’s on a single attempt a game. Surely, in an offense with more spacing and ball-movement, and with a great passer like Morant, Jones could see an uptick in both 3-point percentage and attempts per game.
It will be important to find some off-ball looks for Morant next season, as he flashed the potential to be a gifted scorer and cutter. Having Jones will open up more opportunities for such moments. Jones established himself as one of the most efficient floor generals in basketball, sporting the best assist:turnover ratio in the league (6.96). He also ranked in the 94th percentile in “assist rate to usage rate” ratio at 1.55, per Cleaning the Glass. That kind of playmaking intelligence isn’t just important to feed Morant more off-ball opportunities. It also gives the rookie franchise point guard a steady hand that can alleviate playmaking responsibilities.
There will be some defensive concerns with these two on the court together, mainly with size. Even though he’s 6’3”, Morant’s slender frame will subject him to falling into pick-and-rolls. There are also defensive questions with him that remain unanswered. Tyus Jones isn’t a big guard either, as he stands at 6’2” and 196 pounds, but he does have a good wingspan (6’5”). Though he’s not the biggest point guard, his wingspan helps him generate good steal numbers, as he’s ranked in the 85th, 96th (twice), and 90th percentile in steal percentage over his career. If he can maintain those numbers while guarding the better of the opposing team’s backcourt guys — regardless of size — that’ll go a long way in increasing the efficiency of this tandem.
The Grizzlies have Tyus Jones for a good bit, as he inked a 3-year, $26M (with incentives) this summer.
They’re counting on him to be a steady backup point guard for Morant. If he maintains his reputation of being one of the most efficient second-unit floor generals in the league, that contract will look nice for the Grizzlies.
However, they’re also counting on him to thrive alongside the young franchise point guard. If he can prove to be a reliable knockdown shooter, great secondary playmaker, and a solid backcourt defender, that’d be a huge boost for this young Grizzlies team. In the process, his contract could become the one of the biggest bargains in the league.
Tyus Jones and Ja Morant have the tools and skillset to complement one another, despite the defensive concerns. It’s all up to Coach Jenkins and his staff to experiment and find the right style for this young point guard tandem.